Model railway

A railway communication system that could remotely control trains, diagnose problems and offer on-board travel information for passengers is being tested across Europe.

TrainCom, which is based on mobile phone technology, is on trial in laboratories in Berlin, Lyon, Mannheim and Milan prior to track demonstrations later this year.

It is intended to replace the Train Communication Network installed on railways in Europe to aid cross-border operations such as the Channel Tunnel rail service.

Using the mobile phone standard Global System for Mobile communications Rail (GSM-R), the TrainCom system will improve rail services by offering remote access to on-board equipment.

It is being developed by a pan-European consortium of rail agencies and companies including Siemens, Adtranz, Alstom Transport and DaimlerChrysler Rail Systems.

TrainCom will aid position monitoring for rail traffic management and allow trains to be controlled remotely, said Erich Renner, research and development team leader at Siemens’ group technology department in Bavaria.

Development has been made possible by the rise in computer power on-board trains, he said. ‘A demonstration train in 1992 had four computers on-board. In 1998 the next-generation train had 24 and now the latest high-speed train has 144 computers.’

Displays mounted on the interior and exterior of carriages will provide passengers with an information service. Seat reservation details will be sent directly to mini-screens on the back of seats, allowing reservations to be made closer to departure times. Information on destinations, platform numbers, connecting trains and any delays will also be shown.

Train operators will be given remote access to diagnostics information, allowing them to monitor equipment while it is in service and improve planning for maintenance work.

The system will be tested on a German high-speed line and an Italian commuter line this autumn. It will be used in addition to, rather than as part of, the new European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), which is set to become the standard safety system for rail services over the next 20 years.

The project to develop the communications system has been partially funded through the EU’s Information Society Technology programme. Almost half of its 8 million Euros (£5.7m) budget came from EU funding.